Having been handed a disastrous ‘inadequate’ Ofsted grading nearly six years after the last visit resulted in ‘outstanding’ plaudits [see feweek.co.uk], Barry Lord-Gambles explains why he thinks all providers should be inspected every two years.
I have been involved in publicly-funded learning since 1984. I have been through a number of inspections for several companies both as a nominee and director and have always found them to be a challenging, but ultimately positive experience.
The last inspection however was quite an eye opener and has left my company shaken, and stirred into making providers in the same position sit up and take note.
I cannot emphasise enough the effect it had on my staff, learners and employers — many of whom I have worked with for more than 25 years.
I was very disappointed during inspection that success rates for the more up to date 2013/14 cohort were not taken into consideration, even though they were published a fortnight before the draft report was completed. They showed an increase from 69 per cent to 73 per cent.
There was also no consideration given to the current estimated success rates for 2014/15, which stood at 83 per cent.
During the inspection we were told many times by inspectors that many findings could be rectified very quickly and we would certainly be given an opportunity.
This appears not to have been the case and again highlights the inequality between independent learning providers, and schools and FE colleges — both of which do not have their contracts automatically withdrawn, but are allowed to improve despite being put into special measures
Mini inspections should include representatives from lead providers who have in the last 12 months been inspected and gained outstanding
But maybe its security relies on an inspection lottery process that is not fit for purpose.
The subject specialist on our inspection worked for an outstanding lead provider not inspected since May 2006, and even then it was under the Adult Learning Inspectorate.
Surely this cannot be right — it can’t rely on success rates and a well written self-assessment report. I believe all providers should be inspected at least every two years.
To put this in context on the subject of safeguarding, since May 2006 in the news, we have had several high profile safeguarding cases including one very high profile paedophilia case that was able to fool everyone while apparently outwardly projecting an air of total respectability.
These all came to light after the event and with hindsight could have been minimised if appropriate action was taken sooner.
With such an emphasis at inspection on safeguarding I think there may be a lesson there to be learned.
I would suggest that mini inspections would ensure that providers can stay on track and keep up with current Ofsted thinking.
I would suggest that these inspections should be part-inspection and part-support in training, guidance and sharing of good practice.
These mini inspections should include representatives from lead providers who have in the last 12 months been inspected and gained outstanding.
I also believe that the Ofsted events that I have recently attended could be improved by utilising representatives from inspiring providers who would be identified during these mini inspections who could share good practice.
With the added pressures of trying to run a business and keep everyone— from subcontractors, learners, employers, employees, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), Education Funding Agency and Ofsted — onside it is too easy to lose sight of what we are aiming to achieve.
This is compounded by the lack of support from the SFA, which appears to be understaffed and quite often unavailable to answer queries we may have.
As a lead provider trying to address the complexities of work-based training I feel that the challenges are becoming insurmountable.
I feel very strongly that if the UK wants to maintain a first class apprenticeship model local providers like Venture Learning should be supported otherwise local knowledge, expertise and consistency will be lost.